Bruce Willis, Scott Adkins, and a killer shark make for a direct-to-video all-star line-up in this month’s look at movies on the margins of the ever-busy VOD and streaming release schedule.
Survive the Night (VOD May 22) Compared to most of the direct-to-video work he churns out every year, Bruce Willis has a decent amount of screen time in this desultory thriller about a pair of armed robbers who break into the secluded home of a doctor and force him to patch up a gunshot wound. Willis plays grizzled retired sheriff Frank, who’s opened his home to his disgraced doctor son Rich (Chad Michael Murray) and Rich’s wife and daughter. There’s virtually no suspense in the rote hostage drama, which, contrary to the title, takes place over a night and much of the following morning, and the father-son dynamic between the gruff, disapproving Frank and the sullen, resentful Rich provides for meager character growth. Willis gives his typical minimal effort, and Murray is thoroughly unconvincing as a bitter medical veteran brought down by bureaucracy (“I ain’t seen the inside of a leg in 10 years,” he tells the robbers when asked to operate). Grade: C-
Girls Just Wanna Have Blood (VOD and DVD May 26) The puntastic title is the only clever thing about this painful, interminable horror comedy about a trio of teenage-looking female vampires who attempt to recruit a new member to their group. The plot is meandering and padded, the acting is rough (with frequent fumbled lines) and the effects are so rudimentary that they don’t even provide bite marks on most of the victims. The sloppy, inconsistent vampire mythology only serves to set up weak jokes, and the character motivations shift from scene to scene. Writer-director Anthony Catanese aims for a sort of punk-rock trailer-trash vibe, and the soundtrack is full of enjoyably sleazy hard rock and metal (including a theme song that goes with the movie’s original title, Teenage Bloodsuckin’ Bimbos), but what might have made for a fun three-minute music video is torturous and tedious at feature length. Grade: D
I Will Make You Mine (VOD May 26) Actress Lynn Chen makes her writing and directing debut with a “semi-sequel” to Dave Boyle’s indie dramas Surrogate Valentine and Daylight Savings, shifting the focus from the male protagonist of the earlier movies to the women he spent his time pursuing. Lynn Chen, Ayako Fujitani and Yea-Ming Chen reprise their roles as the romantic interests of shaggy singer-songwriter Goh (Goh Nakamura); he’s still around, but in more of a supporting role. With the characters approaching middle age, Chen’s movie is more about facing regret than about finding romantic love, with a wistful tone that recalls Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. The intimate, handheld black-and-white cinematography is a holdover from Boyle’s previous films, but Chen makes this movie her own with sharp attention to character detail, gentle humor, and a potent mix of hopefulness and melancholy. Grade: B+
Ouija Shark (VOD and DVD May 26) Disappointingly, this cheapo shark-attack movie from the director of Jurassic Shark and Raiders of the Lost Shark is not the third part of a Steven Spielberg-themed shark trilogy (is Schindler’s Shark really too much to ask for?). Instead, it’s a self-consciously ludicrous story about the spirit of a deadly great white shark accidentally summoned via Ouija board. The shark is a glowing specter that flies through the air and roars like a lion, so it could have been any kind of animal or demon, and the flimsy explanation for its existence relies on supernatural nonsense rather than pseudo-scientific nonsense. At least the filmmakers understand how dumb their premise is, and there are enough self-aware jokes and goofy performances to make the 70-minute movie (nearly 15 percent of which is opening and closing credits) tolerable to watch for aficionados of the micro-budget shark genre. Grade: C
Debt Collectors (VOD May 29) In an alternate universe, Scott Adkins is the biggest action star in the world, and Jesse V. Johnson is a Michael Bay-level blockbuster filmmaker. The frequent collaborators (Debt Collectors is their seventh movie together) are kings of direct-to-video action, amassing a substantial cult following thanks to movies like Accident Man, Avengement and 2018’s The Debt Collector, to which this is a sequel. Like the original, Debt Collectors doesn’t have much of a plot, mostly following enforcers French (Adkins) and Sue (fellow DTV action stalwart Louis Mandylor) as they kick and punch their way through various lowlifes who owe money to their boss. At best, both movies have a breezy Quentin Tarantino/Guy Ritchie feel, and at worst they’re just repetitive showcases for the same handful of martial-arts moves. Adkins’ growing legion of fans will enjoy getting more of the same, and newcomers will get a solid sampler of what Adkins and Johnson have to offer. Grade: B-
Black Ops (VOD June 12) The blue-gray color palette and frequent sniper POV shots of the opening sequence make it feel a bit like a video-game knock-off, but writer-director Tom Paton’s movie shifts gears into a Twilight Zone-style morality play once the main characters leave the battlefield. The covert team of British and American mercenaries raids a camp in an unnamed Eastern European country, where a local woman appears to put a curse on them right before they execute her. Sure enough, her ghost returns to pursue them up a seemingly never-ending stairwell in their nondescript headquarters, and the only escape is through portals that send them back in time to the initial attack. Paton plays with time loops in an occasionally ingenious way, but the characters never develop distinct personalities, and the action is often hard to follow, even though the same scenario repeats over and over (to diminishing effect). Grade: C+